Building block 8: Assessing Combined Impacts

Organisations should develop mechanisms for assessing the combined impact of different policies and practices on the same groups or individuals. This is because a series of changes to different policies or services could have a severe impact on particular groups or individuals.

Reflections on assessing combined impact:

Your standard impact assessments are undertaken by many public authorities up and down the country will involve an individual department making an assessment of an individual policy, a budget, a practice etc. and coming to a conclusion of what the equality and human rights impacts of that policy, budget or practice are. But if we think about this from a human rights perspective the human being is the most important part of the process…..

Sometimes decisions can be made by different organisations or different departments within an organisation and it’s the combined effect of all of those different decision making processes that can lead to real problems for equality and human rights within the community.

By getting in the room to begin with and talking about those kind of issues they can then plan an impact assessment process that is going to give them an insight into how to plan and mitigate the effects on the people most likely to be affected by the decision making process.Dr James Harrison, University of Warwick


  • Why is assessing combined impacts important?

The business case

Vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and individuals are likely to be impacted by the policies and practices of a wide variety of public sector organisations as well as departments within each organisation. EQHRIAs which only assess the policies of an individual department or organisation in isolation are likely to miss the cumulative impacts of multiple policy changes on groups and individuals. For instance, the decision to charge for services will have more impact on a particular group using those services if they are also experiencing cuts in benefits and cuts in access to other services at the same time.

The legal case

Human rights law is regarded as “case specific” and “victim–led”. This means that the courts will consider the individual circumstances of each case and whether a particular situation has cumulatively led to the thresholds of a right being engaged or breached. While the court will not prescribe how the public body should address the situation, if an individual is left in circumstances which, for example, could be seen as inhuman or degrading or a breach of private, home and family life then a violation may be found in that instance. This means in order to ensure that rights are not violated public bodies, and those carrying out public functions, may want to consider how the cumulative impacts of multiple policy changes on groups and individuals are assessed.

There is no legal requirement under The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 regarding combined impacts. However a court could consider non-statutory guidance published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, including Assessing Impact and the public sector equality duty when deciding whether the actions of an authority have been reasonable.  This guidance explains how assessment of impact should consider the cumulative effect of related decisions.

  • What are the practical considerations?

Commitment of senior managers will be needed in order to assess the combined impact of policies:

  1. across a single public authority and/or

  2. across a number of public authorities who have an impact on individuals in a particular place

In some situations, the starting point will be to consider all the individual EQHRIAs carried out across different departments/organisations. In other situations, you may start with a combined EQHRIA of the impact of policy changes across a wide number of departments/organisations. In either case, it is vital that public authorities communicate with each other about the combined impacts of their policies and take appropriate action as a result.